A Michigan State Senate committee has stepped into a controversy that is raging over the potential sale of the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The senate's General Operations Committee unanimously passed a bill yesterday that would protect the art collections at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) and Michigan state museums in general from liquidation in the event of a municipal bankruptcy proceeding, according to the Detroit Free PressThe bill now moves to the full Senate, where it is expected to be taken up later this week.

Detroit's emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, informed the DIA last month that its art, as a municipal asset, could be sold to replenish the city's coffers. Highlights from the collection, valued at $15 billion, include canvases by Rembrandt and van Gogh and masterworks by Pieter Bruegel and Henri Matisse, along with a version of Rodin's statue The Thinker and, ironically, a mural by Diego Rivera that hails the auto industry.

The move has produced outrage in the museum community, with Timothy Rub, president of the Association of Art Museum directors and Philadelphia Museum of Art director, calling the move "unprecedented." AAMD guidelines restrict sales of museum collections for any purpose other than new acquisitions.

PHOTO: Detroit Industry murals by Diego Rivera at the Detroit Institute of Arts.